Georgian cuisine may not be as famous as its wines, but the word is spreading. An increasing number of international visitors are coming to our Country and discovering the rich flavors in the food, and the fine wines that accompany those flavors so well. The Region of Kakheti lies east of the Capital, Tbilisi, bordering Azerbaijan to the north and the Greater Caucasus Mountains to the south. Its current jurisdiction was formed after independence by the amalgamation of the historic provinces of Kakheti and its adjacent Tusheti, a relatively small mountainous region. It is a splendid place to not only sample the Georgian wine and cuisine but also to see many of the landmarks for which Georgia is becoming famous.
What Is the Best Way to Get to Kakheti?
Kakheti’s proximity to Tbilisi means that it is extremely accessible; it is about 70 km away. Tbilisi has direct international flights with many countries, east and west. A taxi between Tbilisi and Kakheti is relatively inexpensive, especially if you are traveling in a small group. If you have booked a tour to Georgia, all the transport will be in place before you arrive.
A less comfortable version of a taxi is known locally as a Marshulka. This means of transport is slightly cheaper and will make a few stops on the way.
Accommodation in Kakheti
The popularity of Kakheti is supported by the availability of accommodation for visitors to suit every budget. There have always been guesthouses in Kakheti and even rooms for rent in family homes. Recently increased tourist numbers have resulted in an increase in accommodation alternatives.
Holiday Inn, Telavi
Holiday Inn is a modern 85 room hotel close to the Palace of King Ereke II with many of the city’s main landmarks within walking distance. It has a pool, spa and fitness center as well as free Wi-Fi. There is a bar, lounge and restaurants as well as plenty of activities to keep children occupied.
Schuchmann Wines Chateau & SPA, Telavi
This comfortable and convenient accommodation in Telavi is offering a wide range of amenities as well as well-equipped rooms with TV, mini-bar and air-con. The sun terrace is a great place to relax and the restaurant of the same name is just a stroll away.
Hotel Kabadoni, Sighnaghi
Kabadoni is a 21-room hotel offering everything from standard rooms to suites. The panoramic views of the Alazani Valley and the Caucasus Mountains add to the experience of staying here. A mix of modern and traditional Georgian, Hotel Kabadoni has much to recommend it.
Radisson Collection Hotel Tsinandali Estate
It’s an ideal place if you want to explore the local vineyards. There are 141 rooms in all, ever yone equipped to the highest standard. There is a pool and fitness center, Wi-Fi and activities for the whole of the family.
Kvareli Lake Resort
Kvareli resort lies just to the east of the city below the Great Caucasus Mountains. The views from the hotel are stunning with lake, forest and mountains. Each room has a pleasant terrace from which guests can enjoy the setting, with the hotel having every amenity to make for a pleasant stay.
Vineyard Hotel and Wine Cellar, Telavi
It’s a small establishment where guests can really enjoy local hospitality. They will have the opportunity to learn how to make traditional bread and Kakheti cuisine as well as sampling the local wine.
Guesthouse Honeymoon, Sighnaghi
This place is ideal for someone on a budget. Each room is en-suite with guests able to enjoy views of the mountains or the city. There is Wi-Fi throughout, air-con, housekeeping and laundry service.
Park Hotel Tsinandali
This establishment prides itself on proving the local hospitality for which Georgia is noted. The Hotel is surrounded by a park with lovely walks for guests to enjoy. There is a bar, lounge and restaurant with free Wi-Fi throughout.
This Chateau in the village of Khashmi provides a warm and welcoming atmosphere where it is easy to relax and enjoy the best of traditional Georgian cuisine and locally produced wines. The amenities are everything any guest could ask for, including air-con, pool, and children’s activities.
Lopota Lake Resort & Spa
Lopota Resort sits in a lovely valley surrounded by the Caucasus Mountains. Built on a large site with a private lake, it is an ideal place for couples, families and other groups to relax. There is a pool, sauna, tennis courts as well as bicycle rental for those who want to explore. Each room is equipped to the highest standards.
Food & Wine
Kakheti is the main wine region of Georgia. Around 70% of our wine is produced in this Province, and an even larger percentage of our grapes are grown. Kakheti has a similar climate to the South of France. Fourteen of the registered varieties of Georgian wines out of a total of eighteen originate in Kakheti. The Province gives its name to a white table wine made from the Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grapes. Over half of the Province’s grapes however, are red, Saperavi and most of the popular wines drunk locally include at least some of this grape.
When it comes to the local cuisine, meat lovers will enjoy Mtsvadi, a Georgian barbeque of meat, marinated pork, mutton or veal, on skewers cooked out in the open. It often comes with Shoti, freshly baked bread, which is cooked in a round clay oven known as a Tone and has a unique taste. Most homes in Kakheti have this clay oven in their backyards.
Khashlama is a traditional Georgian dish, meat that you eat with your hands. It is something that hosts may suggest; whatever you do, don’t say no thank you because it is a true culinary experience. It is cooked very slowly using beef or lamb and is regularly on the menu of a supra, which is a traditional Georgian feast.
Churchkhela is found purely in Kakheti. It is a candy that is made into the shape of a candle. The ingredients are a variety of nuts, almonds, hazelnuts and walnut mixed with grapes, flour and often chocolate. In 2015, the traditional process of making churchkhela has been included in the Intangible Cultural List of Georgia.
Whatever your choice of food, make sure you select a Georgian wine to drink with it.
Places You Must Visit in Kakheti
The capital of the Kakheti district is Telavi, a beautiful town whose origins date back to the 8th Century. Locals can enjoy seeing the stunning Caucasus range during their daily lives and visitors are certain to love the setting.
It has a population of around 20,000 with its lowest point at 500 meters above sea level. There are interesting ruins locally with the Alaverdi Cathedral a notable landmark as are St. Giorgi Church, Ikalto Academy and Sameba Church.
Just a short distance west of Telavi you will find this monastery complex created by Assyrians towards the end of the 6th Century. It has always been regarded as one of the most important educational centers in our Country. The academy was added in the 12th Century in order to teach a range of subjects, among them geography, astronomy, theology and philosophy.
However, it did not forget the importance of practical skills such as metalwork and pottery, essential to produce wine locally. Georgia’s winemaking is a tradition going back thousands of years and the wine cellar at the Monastery has been stocking its own production from the very beginning. Sadly, the Academy was destroyed by the Persians early in the 17th Century and only the ruins remain.
The most important of the three churches in the Complex is Khvtaeba built sometime in the 8th–9th Century, where there was an older church. That was the burial site of Saint Zenon, who led those 6th Century Assyrians. The other two are Kvelatsminda and Sameba.
Sighnaghi was a fortress settlement back in the 18th Century during the reign of King Erekle. Its walls are 2 km long with 25 towers and 5 entrances. It is located at over 800 meters above sea level in the far east of Kakheti.
Not surprisingly, it was included in early itineraries as tourists began to visit Georgia. This is the heart of Kakheti’s wine country. Its name is Turkic in origin ‘’siginak’’ meaning ‘’shelter’’. It is just a small town, little more than a large village, with quaint cobbled streets that suffered difficult times immediately after the Soviet era, but infrastructure development and tourism have reversed that situation. Now known as the ‘’City of Love’’, couples often go to Sighnaghi to get married.
Visitors are certain to enjoy the two Orthodox Churches, St, Stephen and St. George, as well as Bodbe Monastery, just 2 km away.
Kvareli and the Ilia Lake are up in the northeast part of Kakheti and few places offer a better view of the Caucasus. Wine is a tradition with Kindzmarauli, a sweet red using the Saperavi grape, its best offering. The Lake area is becoming increasingly popular with tourists and rightly so. Spend a weekend, or even longer here, because you will never tire of its beauty.
This small Georgian town gives its name to one of our Country’s most popular red wines. The soils on Mukuzani’s slopes, a mix of clay, calcium and iron, are ideal for quality grapes and hence lovely wine.
Mukuzani is a very popular dry red wine made from the Saperavi grape. It is matured in oak casks for three years minimum. It is regarded as a more complex wine than other local reds as a result. If you are eating steak or other dark meats, Mukuzani is ideal.
Gremi, on the Telavi–Kvareli road, 11 miles from Telavi, was the regional capital for two centuries until 1672. The town has gone, destroyed by Shah Abbas of Persia in the 17th Century but the citadel and church that were its main feature still survive.
The 16th Archangels’ Church, the three-story castle, bell tower and wine cellar (marani) are surrounded by a wall with turrets and towers. There is a museum within the bell tower with several exhibits, including an old cannon. Portraits of former kings have been painted on the walls by a noted modern Georgian artist.
The Estate of the Georgian House of Chavchavadze, Tsinandali is a place where visitors are welcome to visit the 19th Century wine cellar and sample the wine. There is a wine collection of over 16,500 bottles, local and gathered from many parts of the world. The Estate passed from the Chavchavadze Family to Russia because of family debts and hence was State-owned after the Russian Revolution in 1917. It became a museum 30 years later and extensive restoration of both the palace and the park in 2007 has made it the popular attraction it is today.
Tsinandali is a famous dry white wine in Georgia and this is the place to buy it.
Gvirabi Khareba is where visitors can visit a truly wonderful wine cellar. Gvirabi (‘’tunnel’’ in English) was opened almost half a century ago is carved in the rock of the Caucasus Mountain Range. The tunnel was opened in 1962 and is 7.7 kms long. It is carved in rock in the Caucasus Range and the constant temperature and humidity created is ideal for wine aging.
In recent years, a tour has been created to include a nearby recreation park, including the Alazani River, a water mill, a traditional ‘’tone’’ (baking oven), grape presses, a distilling facility and old Qvevries (clay jars used for wine production.) The restaurant within the tunnel is a great place to eat.
Some may find the caves cool and blankets are offered for those who do. You will be invited to sample the wines, red and white, with a little cheese and bread. A great experience and very educational if you want to know how wine has been produced traditionally.
A Few Hints Before You Go to Kakheti
- Some peoples don’t mean to be rude. It is just that their natural language has no niceties. You will find that in Kakheti so do not feel any offense because none is intended.
- If you are offered food, take it because the invitation is unlikely to be given a second time. It is just the way things are in Kakheti so don’t be shy.
- The people of Kakheti love their alcohol so be prepared if you start drinking with many of them round for round. You are not only likely to lose but the next morning you may not feel too good, but it may be worth it, you will be well treated with traditional hangover soup Khashi and famous Georgian Chacha
- Older people are unlikely to know anything but Georgian and Russian, but after a few glasses of wine, everyone seems to understand each other quite easily.